What it is
Fat molecules have a long backbone of carbon atoms bound to hydrogen atoms. When a particular carbon is “saturated,” it forms a single bond with two other carbon atoms, and two hydrogen atoms. When consecutive carbons are “unsaturated,” they’re each only bound to a single hydrogen atom, allowing the neighboring carbon atoms to form a double bond with each other. This typically causes a bend in the carbon backbone.
A monounsaturated fat is a fat with a single pair of unsaturated carbons, and generally a single bend in the carbon backbone of the fat. This bend in the carbon backbone makes the fat molecules less likely to stack up in an orderly fashion, so monounsaturated fats are typically liquids at room temperature.
What it does
Monounsaturated fats are probably the most “normal” fats. They do the typical things you’d expect a fat to do – provide energy, help with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, and serve as the raw materials for cell membranes. But, unlike saturated fats that are implicated in the development of heart disease, and certain polyunsaturated fats that are essential fatty acids, most monounsaturated fats don’t really do anything particularly special. You can just think of them as neutral fats.
Since monounsaturated fats aren’t essential nutrients (unlike omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fats), and since excess monounsaturated fat intake isn’t directly implicated in increasing disease risk (unlike saturated fat), there’s no particular intake target for monounsaturated fats. So, your intake of monounsaturated fat should mostly be determined by your overall fat intake target. Make sure you consume sufficient amounts of essential fatty acids, try to limit saturated fat intake, and get most of the rest of your fat intake from monounsaturated and non-essential polyunsaturated fats.
Likelihood of tracking completeness: Very low
Monounsaturated fat is not a nutrient food manufacturers are required to disclose on nutrition labels. The vast majority of food manufacturers do not voluntarily list monounsaturated fat content on nutrition labels, so most branded products in the MacroFactor database lack information on monounsaturated fat. So, if you’d like to accurately track your monounsaturated fat intake, you’ll need to make a point of mostly tracking “common foods,” which come from research-grade databases that have full nutrient reporting.
For more on when you can track using branded foods versus common foods when you’re trying to accurately monitor your intake of particular nutrients, you should check out this article.
Likelihood of insufficient or excessive intake: Not applicable
Relatively low and relatively high intakes of monounsaturated fat aren’t going to cause problems in isolation. You could potentially consider your monounsaturated fat intake to be too low if your saturated fat intake is too high, or you could potentially consider your monounsaturated fat intake to be too high if your intake of essential fatty acids is too low, but the more direct “culprits” in those scenarios would be the excessive saturated fat intake or insufficient essential fatty acid intake.
For more on fat recommendations, check out the articles on dietary fats, saturated fats, omega-3 fats, and omega-6 fats.
For more on nutrients with a greater likelihood of insufficient or excessive intake, you should check out this article.
Signs of deficiency/insufficiency
For more on the effects of generally insufficient overall fat intake, see the article on dietary fats.
Most nuts, seeds, and seed oils are great sources of monounsaturated fats. About 60-80% of the fats in these foods are monounsaturated fats. Among animal products, veal, pork, and beef fat have relatively high proportions of monounsaturated fats, with monounsaturated fats comprising about 40-45% of total fat content.
If you’d like to learn more about micronutrients generally, there’s a five-part series on the MacroFactor website you might enjoy.